When consumers think of PepsiCo, the snack and beverage giant is most likely to conjure up a response involving one of its signature sodas and chips.
Now, executives at the $192 billion CPG giant are hoping a rebrand of a lesser-known plant-based line known as Evolve will turn it into its next mainstream product. A successful overhaul would accelerate PepsiCo's presence in the fast-growing category as consumers curtail their consumption of animal-based products and gravitate toward foods with more functional benefits.
PepsiCo acquired Evolve from Hormel Foods in 2019 for $465 million, a deal that also brought to the fold the popular Muscle Milk brand. In the nearly two years since the acquisition, PepsiCo has been making changes to the brand ahead of an eventual reintroduction. They include reformulating Evolve to boost the fiber content of its bars, ready-to-drink shakes and powders and plotting ways to expand its reach to include a broader active outdoor audience.
"There are a lot of people saying 'Hey, I've never heard of that brand, what's it about,' but hopefully after this year and in the years to come, Evolve will be a household name and it will be a plant-protein product that consumers know," said Laura Gardner, senior director of the active fitness portfolio at PepsiCo.
The Evolve brand is relaunching with a new advertising campaign, as well as refreshed packaging that underscores its commitment to the outdoors and partnership with the National Park Foundation.
Evolve is increasing the fiber content of its four shakes from 1 gram to 10 grams to heighten their functional profile and renaming the products — Ideal Vanilla is now Vanilla Bean, for example, and Mellow Mocha is now Cafe Mocha.
"This relaunch is about staying true to the brand DNA but really catapulting it into the mainstream in a way that the brand hasn't been in the past," Gardner said.
When PepsiCo acquired Evolve, Gardner said the company noticed the brand had high rates of repeat customers and regularly drew new shoppers into the category. It also routinely performed well in retailers such as Whole Foods. At the same time, plant-based consumption was shifting from a trend to a more established concept, and PepsiCo believed Evolve could benefit from the surge in adoption to become a household name.
"We saw that performance and thought 'Gosh, there is really something here,'" she said. It "really has to do with the data that we are seeing around consumers being ready for plant protein."
Evolve is currently sold online and in retailers such as Amazon, Whole Foods, Kroger and natural food channels, with Target, Walmart and Costco.com expected to carry the brand soon. The shakes also will be stocked at convenience store retailers such as 7-Eleven, Circle K and Speedway.
The relaunch of Evolve is the latest in a series of moves by PepsiCo to increase its presence in plant-based foods.
"As you think about [how] we're creating spaces for future growth, one of them is plant-based snacking, plant-based convenient solutions," Ramon Laguarta, PepsiCo's CEO, said during the company's most recent earnings call.
In January, PepsiCo established a joint venture called The PLANeT Partnership with Beyond Meat that will develop, produce and market snack and beverage products made from plant-based protein.
PepsiCo in recent years also has purchased plant-based protein bar, mix and snack maker Health Warrior; baked fruit and vegetable snack maker Bare; and BFY Brands, the maker of PopCorners. And earlier this week, Hilo Life, a company within PepsiCo’s Hive accelerator, launched an almond flour-based tortilla chip targeting keto and carb-conscious eaters.
Many consumers consider plant-based products to be healthier alternatives. A 2018 study from DuPont Nutrition & Health found 52% of people who eat more plant-based food said it makes them feel healthier. That perception has only increased since the emergence of COVID-19. According to Nielsen data, sales of plant-based snacks rose 10.6% during the 52 weeks ended Jan. 16. Plant-based beverage sales increased 13.5%.